The Anton Chekhov Book Club

 

The Moving Dock-198sWhen you love a book, you enter another world…
Four eccentric women brought together by their love for the literary giant, Anton Chekhov, lose themselves – and find themselves – in the pages of his timeless short stories.

The Moving Dock Theatre Company premiered  The Anton Chekhov Book Club summer 2015. Created and performed by the Moving Dock Ensemble, directed by Moving Dock’s Artistic Director Dawn Arnold, The Anton Chekhov Book Club brought to the stage Anton Chekhov’s masterful short stories. The whimsical ladies of The Anton Chekhov Book Club embodied their love of Anton Chekhov’s writing, taking the audience on a journey into Chekhov’s world.

The Moving Dock has been exploring the synergy between the writings of Anton Chekhov and the acting technique of Michael Chekhov (Anton Chekhov’s nephew), the focus of our studio, Chekhov Studio Chicago. We first explored the idea of a piece centered around Anton Chekhov’s short stories through a five day ‘Chekhov on Chekhov’ workshop in the studio. The workshop culminated in a joyful presentation and upon listening to the encouragement of our participants and audience, we began to take this initial exploration into a fully fledged performance piece.

In the show’s process, a combination of adaptation and devising, the Moving Dock ensemble selected favorites out of hundreds of possible short stories and translated them for the stage. The text of the show was entirely by Anton Chekhov as we brought to life stories perhaps unfamiliar even to fans of Chekhov’s writing.

Our ensemble are actors and directors interested in furthering their understanding of how to work with the creative means of the Michael Chekhov approach. The Anton Chekhov Book Club featured Dawn Arnold, Alicia Hall, who was in Moving Dock’s Unsung Stars, Christa Macbeth, who joined the company for Shakespeare’s Notebook,  Audra Yokley, who got involved after studying Chekhov Technique in the Studio, and Chrissy Calkins Steele, who was in Moving Dock’s first show, Galway Bay.
Book Club-Work of Art
The Anton Chekhov Book Club Returns  brought the ladies back for a second show in summer 2016. Alicia and Audra co-directed with Dawn and new faces on stage included Sue Mullins, who also studied in the Studio, and Ginger Schmidt, who was in the ensemble for Moving Dock’s production of Ocean Sea. This ensemble chose a new line-up of stories that delighted our audiences as much as the first Anton Chekhov Book Club.

Will we be doing yet another Anton Chekhov Book Club? Stay tuned!

 

273x398ACBC16v2

From our Reviewers -


“Under Dawn Arnold’s well-ordered direction, a quartet of women act out the stories with a minimum of props, costumes and, thank goodness, emotional indulgence. Like Chekhov, they understand that carefully wrought surfaces convey psychological depths with great dramatic credibility.”  
 Justine Hayford, Chicago Reader

“Anton isn’t the only Chekhov contributing to the evening’s enjoyment: The acting techniques formulated by his nephew, Michael Chekhov—chiefly its emphasis on body language as a tool for conveying character—are employed by director Dawn Arnold’s ensemble with an expertise rarely seen in our Meisner-dominated theater community, rendering each individual personae immediately recognizable after little more than a change of a vest or a shawl, with any cognitive obstruction arising from the cross-gender casting likewise quickly dissipating. Careful text interpretation also plays a part in securing our sympathy, even for those we might otherwise consider undeserving of it. 

Devotees of such elitist fantasies as Downton Abbey are free to cozy down for the 80-minute duration of Chekhov’s tour, its nostalgic milieu enhanced by Weston Williams’ delightful score of familiar pre-revolution classics, but the thematic link to the disparate segments—as the Book Club members remind us repeatedly—is the readiness with which these eccentric personalities can be seen in our own society today.”  Mary Shen Barnidge, Windy City Times

 

The Anton Chekhov Book Club is a Show

I was talking with a friend tonight and she was confused. She thought I went to a book club called the Anton Chekhov Book Club. I said I did ..but… that its not a book clubThe Anton Chekhov Book Club is a show. A live theatre show, The Anton Chekhov Book Club.

Two years in a row our little book club show performed at Chicago’s Stage 773. A terrific ensemble of fellow actresses, designers, directors, and a brilliant stage manager, met in a church to rehearse. After digging through over 200 short stories by Anton Chekhov, we chose our favorite stories by the illustrious storyteller for The Anton Chekhov Book Club. 

Like the women we are portraying, we have spent quality time with books by Anton Chekhov, so I guess in a way we really are a book club. Our book club (acting ensemble) goes beyond talking about the stories we read. We inhabit the world, sense the atmospheres, envision the places, enact the circumstances, and most of all, become the characters. We also channel Anton as we try to see what he sees.

Actors love Anton Chekhov. He reveals human beings in a way that makes an actor’s work easy for he plumbs the depths. Or, as Lydia Avilova wrote, “He understands everything.” Anton Chekhov is at heart a joker. He always has a twinkle in the eye, a laugh behind his seemingly serious face. When he gets sober and sometimes critical of the cruel things people do to each other, he does it with clarity and compassion. Most of the time he pokes with a smile.

The stories we have chosen for The Anton Chekhov Book Club Returns are a mix of poignant and hilarious, leaning towards the light hearted. We’re living in serious times and getting a bit goofy is becoming a necessity. As we compare our world to Anton’s, we realize our world is safer, more just, and less repressive than his and he laughed so we can, too.

Audiences have seen the plays of Anton Chekhov, but not many have seen his stories on stage. They should. The stories translate wonderfully to the theatre. Our cast of four women cross all casting boundaries. We play men as well as women, characters older than ourselves and much younger. We try to capture images of the characters in our mind’s eye and allow that to influence our actual bodies. We are hoping our audience will see our characters, not just us. Each story takes us on a journey into the souls of ordinary people in moments of yearning, worry, frustration, or joy. We’ll keep the 19th century Russian flavor, but as we get closer and closer to these stories, the distance between that time and ours, the world of Anton and our Chicago, diminishes and we exist in a time warp.

The Anton Chekhov Book Club and The Anton Chekhov Book Club Returns enabled us to celebrate life through Anton Chekhov’s point of view. Will we do another? Absolutely! There’s many more stories to explore.

© Dawn Arnold

Dawn Arnold is Artistic Director of The Moving Dock Theatre Company / Chekhov Studio Chicago.